Moncrieff: 57-70; Sturrock: 46-56
by Dennis Abrams
The Marquis de Vaugoubert, “one of the few men (possibly the only man) in society who happened to be in what is called in Sodom the ‘confidence’ of M. de Charlus. But, if our minister to the court of King Theodosius had some of the same defects as the Baron, they were only very pale reflexions of them.” Marcel is introduced to Mme de Vaugoubert “(who on account of her corpulence, her high birth, her masculine air, and above all the mediocrity of her husband, was reputed to be endowed with eminent capacities and to be herself for all practical purposes the minister.)” by her husband (who seems to have forgotten Marcel’s name) and he hopes she will introduce him to the Prince. Marcel’s plans with Albertine after the reception. Which came first: Was Mme de Vaugoubert mannish before she married her husband, which is what attracted him to her, or did she become mannish during the marriage in order to please her husband? Mme de Vagoubert’s interest in Marcel, seeing him “as one of those young men who appealed to M. de Vaugoubert and whom she herself would so much have liked to be now that her aging husband showed a preference for youth.” The women of the party, for whom the party isn’t really enjoyable, and to a certain extent doesn’t really exist, until they read about it in the papers the next day. M. de Charlus makes his presence known on the balustrade of the great staircase. Marcel moves outside: “I recognized beneath the trees various women with whom I was on more or less friendly terms, but they seemed transformed because they were at the Princess’s and not at her cousin’s, and because I saw them seated not in front of Dresden china plates but beneath the boughs of a chestnut-tree.” Mme de Souvre, and her reluctance to introduce Marcel to the Prince. Marcel’s difficulty in remembering the name of Mme d’Arpajon, the Duc de Guermantes’ former mistress. A digression on memory and sleep. Mme d’Arpajon is even more cowardly than Mme de Souvre.
I am really really enjoying this section. A little social, a little character analysis, a little digression on memory and how it works…what’s not to love? In some ways, it reminds me of a scene in a movie, where the camera glides through the party scene (in this case instead of the camera, Marcel) and we see bits and pieces of the ongoing festivities through his eyes.
I was particularly struck by the section in which Marcel/the Narrator discusses memory and his struggle to remember the name of Mme d’Arpajon.
“I remembered quite well having met her at dinner, and could remember things that she had said. But my attention, concentrated upon the inward region in which these memories of her lingered, was unable to discover her name there. It was there none the less. My thoughts began playing a sort of game with it to grasp its outlines, its initial letter, and finally to bring the whole name to light. It was labour in vain; I could more or less sense its mass, its weight, but as for its forms, confronting them with the shadowy captive lurking in the interior darkness, I said to myself: ‘That’s not it.’ Certainly my mind would have been capable of creating the most difficult names. Unfortunately, it was not called upon to create but to reproduce. Any mental activity is easy if it need not be subjected to reality. Here I was forced to subject myself to it. Finally, in a flash, the name came back to me in its entirety: ‘Madame d’Arapjon.’ I am wrong in saying that it came, for it did not, I think, appear to me by a spontaneous propulsion. Nor do I think that the many faint memories associated with the lady, to which I did not cease to appeal for help (by such exhortations as: ‘Come now, it’s the lady who is a friend of Mme de Souvre, who feels for Victor Hugo so artless an admiration mingled with so much alarm and horror’)– nor do I think that all these memories, hovering between me and her name, served in any way to bring it to light. That great game of hide and seek which is played in our memory when we seek to recapture a name does not entail a series of gradual approximations. We see nothing, then suddenly the correct name appears and is very different from what we thought we were guessing. It is not the name that has come to us. No, I believe rather that, as we go on living, we spend our time moving further away from the zone in which a name is distinct, and it was by an exercise of my will and attention, which heightened the acuteness of my inward vision, that all of a sudden I had pierced the semi-darkness and seen daylight…”
This strikes me as absolutely correct. Your opinion? Thoughts? Experiences?
And a bit more from Sean Wollitz’s look at French society from The Proustian Community:
“Let us observe now some of the constant social activity in the months of May and June of the same year, 1903. On May 19, a cousin of the Comtesse Greffulhe nee Chimay, Comte Robert de Montessquiou, Proust’s friend and patron in society, partial model of the Baron de Charlus, dandy and social king of his age, held a reception from four to seven at his Pavillon de Muses. Among those present were the Comtesse Greffulhe nee Chimay, Comte A. de la Rouchefoucauld, Comtesse de Castellane, and Comtesse de Dampierre. On May 19, Mme Standish nee des Cars, a cousin of the Comte de Montesquiou, gave a charity party for the same people. On June 4, the Comte and Comtesse de Gabriac reciprocated with a soiree musicale. The same faces were present. And on June 1 and on June 8 the Comtesse E. de Pourtales had two magnificent receptions: present were Ducs de Lunyes, de Noailles, de la Tremoille, Prince Murat, Prince A. de Broglie, Comtesse Greffulhe, Comtes Jean, Boni, Stanislas de Castellane, Comtesse d’Haussonville, Comtes G. and A. de la Rouchefoucauld, and others. We are with the innermost core of the Faubourg Saint-Germain: it is one large family constantly meeting — the world of the Guermantes.”
Moncrieff: Page 70 “I had no one else to turn to but M. de Charlus…” through Page 81 “…instead of working her way up gradually.”
Sturrock: Page 56 “My one remaining recourse was to M. de Charlus…” through Page 63 “She had completed her schooling in a few months without seeing it through to the end.”